News Roundup: Public vs. Private

  • After a tower shifted downhill this spring, the City of Steamboat will again fix Howelsen Hill’s chairlift rather than replacing it.
  • In the Jay Peak fraud case, former resort owner Ariel Quiros and executive Bill Stenger settle with the State of Vermont for $2.1 million without admitting wrongdoing.
  • In a separate class action lawsuit, a group of Jay Peak investors allege more than 100 immigration lawyers received $5 million in kickbacks from the resort, creating undisclosed conflicts of interest.
  • The federal government orders an immediate shutdown of the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center, which allowed foreigners to invest in ski resorts such as Jay Peak and other businesses in exchange for green cards.
  • No big deal: a Chinese theme park might build three 3S gondolas.
  • A lawsuit by the State of Maine seeks to finally right the tragedy that followed the sale of a public ski resort to a private company which ran it into the ground.
  • Mt. Snow confirms its next logical lift upgrades will be in Sunbrook and Carinthia.
  • Hermitage Club members could lease Haystack Mountain to reopen next season but Berkshire Bank will not.  Homeowners may have a senior lien on the Barnstormer six-pack but would need to pay for $300,000 of lift maintenance to reopen.
  • Even though his purchase of Saddleback never closed, Australian businessman Sebastian Monsour did spend $400,000 on the closed Maine ski resort last year.  Hopefully some went to lift maintenance!
  • Peak Resorts reports record fourth quarter revenue, up 9.3 percent over last year to $56 million with EBITDA up 3.9 percent to $21.5 million.
  • Arizona Snowbowl reopens tomorrow after a month-and-a-half fire danger closure.
  • Parks Canada seeks public comments on possible Sunshine Village lift and terrain expansions into Goat’s Eye II, Lower Meadow Park and Hayes Hill. Another new lift could eventually parallel the gondola.
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Overview of proposed Sunshine Village expansion areas.  Other acreage would be removed from Sunshine’s area of occupation to compensate for environmental impacts of expansion.
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Timberline Purchases Summit Ski Area

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The Homestead lift replaced a T-Bar at Summit in 1980 and will now be operated by nearby Timberline Lodge.

The Pacific Northwest’s oldest ski resort has a new owner from just up the road – Timberline Lodge.  With its purchase of Summit Ski Area, Timberline parent RLK and Company brings together two of the five ski resorts that surround Oregon’s Mt. Hood.  Family-owned Mt. Hood Meadows bought Cooper Spur Mountain Resort back in 2001 and Mt. Hood Ski Bowl is operated by a third local entity.  Situated in Government Camp directly below Timberline’s Jeff Flood Express, Summit operates a 1980 Riblet double chair and sells lift tickets for just $35.  “We are very pleased with the acquisition and plan to operate Summit Ski Area as a family oriented, affordable, friendly mountain resort,” noted Jeff Kohnstamm, President of Timberline in an afternoon press release.

The long term possibilities of two ski resorts in such close proximity are intriguing.  From bullwheel to bullwheel is just under a mile and there is already an unofficial ski trail between the two areas.  Total vertical could theoretically reach 4,540 feet – far and away the longest in the Pacific Northwest.  But even if the ski resorts never link by ski runs, they could by gondola.  Timberline’s news release notes, “With Portland’s population growing rapidly and more people visiting Mt. Hood, Timberline also views Summit Ski Area as an opportunity to help address public transportation and parking needs while having a greater connectivity to Government Camp.”  A gondola from Government Camp to Timberline would make a lot of sense because of challenges maintaining a road and parking lots above treeline.  There was a gondola lift of sorts way back in the 1950s and RLK has in the past proposed a two stage version along a similar route.

“We look forward to an open-minded approach and discussing opportunities with the community,” says Kohnstamm.  “It will be exciting to see what the future holds for Summit, Timberline, Government Camp and all who visit.”

Instagram Tuesday: Canada

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.

Warner Bros. Unveils Hollywood Skyway Concept

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The Hollywood Skyway would bring visitors to one of LA’s most popular but hard to reach landmarks.  Photo credit: Warner Brothers Entertainment

The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that Warner Bros. Entertainment is seeking to build a $100 million aerial tramway in California’s largest metropolis.  The one mile, $100 million project would improve public access to the famed Hollywood sign atop Mt. Lee and include a new visitor center, viewing platform and walking paths.  The company already operates a popular studio tour on the site of the proposed lower terminal.

The Hollywood Skyway would be entirely funded by Warner Bros. but occupy some public land in Griffith Park, home to the iconic sign since 1923.  Therefore, operating revenue would be shared with the City of Los Angeles.  Nearby neighborhoods have struggled to cope with the flood of tourists seeking to get a glimpse from every possible direction with no formal viewing area.  A ride on the Skyway would take six minutes from a parking garage to the northwest that Warner Bros. owns in Burbank.  “This requires a bold solution,” the firm’s facilities chief Jon Gilbert said to the Times. “If we really want to make a difference … it’s got to be something compelling. Partial solutions are not going to do the trick, and people will continue to inundate the neighborhoods.”

Warner Bros. is owned by WarnerMedia, which became part of AT&T less than a month ago.  A similar gondola floated a year ago would load at Comcast-owned Universal Studios Hollywood.  More than 90 chairlifts, gondolas and tramways now operate at non-skiing venues such as parks and zoos in North America.  Powerhouse competitor Walt Disney Co. is currently building a series of gondolas at its flagship theme park in Florida.  A statement from Warner Bros. argues the Skyway is the best option in Hollywood:

Given our close proximity to the north side of the Hollywood sign, we believe we offer a solution that has the least impact on the environment — protecting and preserving Griffith Park — and the surrounding residential neighborhoods.  We understand there are a number of possible solutions being considered, but we are confident the City’s feasibility study will show our proposal to be the best option — an option that can be built and operated at no cost to the taxpayer and that will provide public benefit to the City of Los Angeles and its residents.

The Hollywood Skyway project could take around five years to complete.  The chosen technology appears to be a reversible aerial tramway rather than a continuous movement gondola system.  This surprises me given the large volume of potential visitors.  The need for air conditioning could be a factor as well as a desire to build as few towers as possible in an urban park.  In my view, a 3S gondola would be the best of both worlds and one Warner Bros. could likely afford.

News Roundup: Wyoming

  • The Province that owns Atlantic Canada’s largest ski resort grows tired of losing money and looks for a private operator for Marble Mountain.
  • Doppelmayr will build the largest vertical six-pack in the world this year at Ischgl, Austria with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain in a single section.
  • Boyne Resorts President and CEO Stephen Kircher says a recent bond sale and tax cuts should yield increased capital investment at his resorts over the next five years.  Boyne doesn’t plan to buy new mountains any time soon, however.
  • Fire update: Purgatory reopens summer operations, Arizona Snowbowl is still closed while Taos, Red River, Sipapu, Ski Santa Fe and Sandia Peak are under partial closures due to extreme fire danger.
  • Antelope Butte, Wyoming has raised the $360,000 it needs to complete lift work and reopen next winter.
  • Beartooth Basin ends its summer season early due to problems with the upper platter lift.
  • Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory says of committing $555 million to mountain improvements: “We went to each resort and said, ‘Tell us, as resort operators, what will make the biggest positive impact on the guest experience.’ They had long lists.”
  • Leitner is pulling ropes at 12,740′ for the highest-ever 3S gondola.
  • Big Sky posts sweet photos from the Austrian factory where America’s first eight passenger chairlift and D-Line stations are being prepared for shipment. Chairs will have some unique designs on the back too.
  • The Portland Aerial Tram returns to service 5:30 am Monday, three weeks early, thanks to crews slipping track ropes much faster than expected.

Instagram Tuesday: Tubes

Every Tuesday, I feature my favorite Instagram photos from around the lift world.